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What Car? says

4 out of 5 stars

For Practical; desirable; good to drive

Against More expensive than rivals

Verdict The Golf still sets the benchmark for small family hatchbacks

Go for… 1.6 FSI S 5dr

Avoid… 4Motion models

Volkswagen Golf Hatchback
  • 1. There are a few reports of timing belts failing on 1.4- and 1.6-litre petrol cars
  • 2. There have been problems with steering racks
  • 3. There’s enough room for two adults or three children in the back seat
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Volkswagen Golf Hatchback full review with expert trade views

This Mk V Golf marked a return to form, after the disappointment of the previous model (1998-2004). The bouncy ride and hesitant steering had been banished, leaving a car that sets the standard for how small family hatchbacks should handle.

Inside, there’s room for four adults, although three children can sit comfortably in the back. The boot is a good size and shape. Overall it’s a cut above rivals such as the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra and, although it will cost you more to buy, it will hold its value better.

The Golf is sharp to drive, stable at speed and controlled. It could be considered a too firm over poor urban roads, but it rides bumps well, and there’s plenty of grip in corners. The electric power steering weights up as the speed increases, but it doesn’t give enough feedback to the driver.

Wind noise isn’t a problem, while tyre noise is negligible. Fit and finish are good, too.

Trade view

Don’t automatically gravitate towards a diesel Golf – a petrol model could well be cheaper to buy and run.

Matt Sanger
What Car?'s Used Car Editor

From the wide range of engines available, the 1.6-litre FSI petrol engine is our pick. With 113bhp it’s powerful enough for this size of car but, because it uses direct injection technology, it’s also fairly frugal. There’s an underpowered 79bhp 1.4-litre and an 89bhp 1.4 FSI petrol version, but the rare 1.4-litre TSI models, with either 120, 138 or 168bhp, are worth looking for because they deliver good performance and economy. The 2.0-litre FSI GT with 148bhp is also available with four-wheel drive.

Diesel options range from the sluggish non-turbo 74bhp 2.0-litre SDI, through the acceptable 103bhp 1.9 TDIs to the preferable 2.0 TDI with 138bhp or 168bhp (the second is available as a four-wheel drive). In 2007, the Bluemotion model was introduced. This offers more miles per gallon, but costs noticeably more to buy as a result.

The entry-level S trim comes with a CD player and air-con, but not alloy wheels. The SE adds air-con along with upgraded and improved cabin trim. From late ’06 the Match – with its upgraded alloys, cabin trim and a better stereo – replaced the SE. Sport and GT trims come with upgraded alloys, sport suspension and sporty cabin trim.

Automatic options include a six-speed conventional automatic gearbox, and VW’s DSG semi-automatic gearbox on the high performance models.

Trade view

Few cars have the car-park kudos of the Golf

Matt Sanger
What Car?'s Used Car Editor

For the best fuel economy you’ll need one of the diesels. The 1.9-litre does an average of 53.3mpg-62.8mpg depending on the model it's in, while the 2.0-litres manage between 47.9mpg and 51.4mpg and the efficient Bluemotion version manages 62.8mpg.

If you want petrol, the 1.6 FSI does an average of 40.4 mpg and the 1.4 TSI between 38.7mpg and 39.8mpg. Diesel models tend to be more expensive, so a petrol model might make more sense unless you plan to do above-average mileage.

The Bluemotion models are cleanest, emitting 119g/km of CO2, with standard diesel models the next most-efficient, ranging from 143g/km for the 1.9-litre up to 165g/km for the four-wheel-drive 2.0-litre models. Petrol emissions go from 163g/km for the 1.6FSI to 206g/km for the 2.0-litre GT 4motion.

Trade view

Don’t automatically gravitate towards a diesel Golf – a petrol model could well be cheaper to buy and run.

Matt Sanger
What Car?'s Used Car Editor

Reliability has been good, although there were early reports of timing belts failing on 1.4- and 1.6-litre petrol cars, and FSI models can run poorly on regular unleaded petrol (they prefer low-sulphur 99 ron unleaded).

The Golf’s paintwork is susceptible to scratches and marks, especially the darker colours and, despite feeling solid, numerous cabin trim rattles and squeaks can appear over time. The dashboard and centre console are particularly vulnerable.

Poor handling, clunks, squeaks and vibrations means the front suspension needs attention, and despite a rebuild the problems can return. The steering can produce a ‘grinding’ noise while in use, requiring parts to be replaced. Also, despite the wheels being correctly aligned, tyres can wear quickly.

Both manual and automatic gearboxes can fail, along with diesel oil pumps and turbos, and the air-con compressor. Like other Volkswagen vehicles, the ABS system can fail, requiring expensive repairs.

Trade view

Few cars have the car-park kudos of the Golf

Matt Sanger
What Car?'s Used Car Editor
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